I enjoyed my first year of formal homeschooling when my oldest child was in kindergarten. I even managed with two younger kids in tow. As a public school-trained, certified PK-12 teacher and someone supremely organized and even creative, my teaching was mainly “by the book.”
I confess that when starting to homeschool, I needed curriculum for English/Reading and Math; otherwise, I wouldn’t have known what to do. I was also struggling with my knowledge base or lack of it when my four-year-old would pepper me with questions: Why do waves turn white when they flip over? Do birds have very much remembrance? If no one’s on the ground [meaning Earth], would love still be there? What I didn’t know at the time was that the way I thought about education and the way I taught was about to change.
“NIGHT OUT” AWARENESS
During my first year of home educating, I was invited to attend a homeschool Mom’s Night Out in a neighboring town to celebrate the end of the school year. The board members had planned a fashion show, complete with masterful comments by a Mistress of Ceremonies. I soon learned this show was actually meant to poke fun at themselves as homeschool moms.
One particular scene involved two moms who were preparing to teach French to their children.
Mrs. Perfect Mom came on stage and began to set the breakfast table. She had on a lovely pink dress with hose and heels, her hair was coiffed, and her apron had French words on it. The breakfast menu was written in French.
On the other side of the stage area came Mrs. Less-Than-Perfect Mom. In her bathrobe and slippers with her hair in curlers, she bustled about. For her French lesson that day, she served French toast for breakfast and McDonald’s French fries for lunch.
As you can imagine, after an hour of this kind of thing, my mouth hurt from laughing. It was wonderful to know that “school” didn’t have to be perfect every day. I began to relax and see the humor in life.
About this same time, I was stewing about getting gray hair at age 34. My pre-school son remarked, “That’s OK, Mom. You are still yourself.” He then added, “Maybe you could be a grandma and have FUN with us.”
That did it. I had to change.
After moving to a different state when my kids were 2, 4, and 6, I joined a science study group of 4-5 moms with similarly-aged kids led by Leah. At our first meeting, Leah, who lived out in the country, allowed all the kids to go into her half-acre-sized garden and dig up carrots and potatoes. I will never forget my 2-year-old’s face when he picked an enormous carrot. I knew we would love being a part of this group.
At that first meeting it was decided we would study plants. I was asked what I could bring to the next meeting. I told the moms I had a poster that showed the parts of the plant. The other moms graciously nodded, saying, “Very good, Rebecca.” (In reality, they thought I didn’t know much about teaching/learning.)
At the next meeting I started the class by explaining the roots, stem, and leaves using the poster. After that the other moms took over in the most incredible ways. At one point, armed with pails and shovels, all the kids headed outside and gathered seeds or dug up selected plants in order to observe how they reproduce (e.g., rhizomes, runners). What fun! At home, my kids planted their bucket items in our yard and watched them grow year after year.
That same night at dinner, wanting to show off for my husband what the kids had learned, I said, “Who remembers what two parts of a plant is called?”
To my disappointment, there was complete silence.
Then my 2-year-old spoke up. “Dicotyledon.” He was the one sitting on the floor playing with cars in the living room while the real class of 5 to 8-year-olds had gathered in the dining room to learn. Interesting.
A month later, I was food-shopping with the kids. Just when I was ready to check out, my oldest son insisted he wanted to show me something down the natural food aisle…which we happened to be passing.
“No.” I said, “We are not getting any more raisins.”
He went over to the raisin bin, pointed to the utensil, and stated, “That’s a second class lever.” (He didn’t want raisins.) The other science group moms had shown the kids levers at a couple of our science study group meetings and my son was just transferring that knowledge. It occurred to me that life is learning and learning is life.
Our final study that year was about rocks. All the kids knew igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic as well as sub-categories. Where we live, there are several kinds of lava rocks: rhyolite, pumice, and obsidian, as well as lava bombs and thunder eggs. I love rocks so was really into this.
One child couldn’t understand why pumice was so light-weight.
Leah went into the kitchen. All the kids flocked around her. She set a bowl and an electric mixer on the table along with some eggs. All watched as she cracked the eggs, letting the whites ooze into the bowl. Then she whipped up the egg whites, explaining that air gets into the egg whites just as air gets into pumice rock.
I stood amazed at what not only Leah did, but how all the moms seemed to teach in a hands-on way.
The whole science study group was transformative. What I learned from those moms erased my formal teacher training classes.
- I started thinking of “school” as a slice of pie in the pie of life, but not the center of life.
- I made a point of doing the opposite of what was done in traditional schools in terms of how things were taught.
I went from being a plain vanilla teacher to a hands-on teacher, enjoying a unit study approach.
In addition to the science moms’ demonstrations, living in a rural area ended up being an advantage. I had no money to attend teaching conferences and internet was practically non-existent, so if I wanted my kids to discover, create, and become thinkers, I had to figure it out by myself and design my own materials. I loved every minute of learning and living.
What happened to the science study group? At the end of the year, some moms worried that we weren’t covering the publicly approved “course of study” requirements and so they found a curriculum. We all looked through it.
The first unit was on rocks. The kids had to separate the rocks into rough and smooth or black and white. That’s it. No “igneous or sedimentary” stuff. The children knew far more than that curriculum in every topic.
The result? Some moms stayed together to work through that curriculum and felt safe, but the rest (including me) melted away.
CONCLUSION or The Road to Joy
What happened to me overall as a teacher?
While homeschooling, I adapted hands-on ideas to part-time teaching at public and private Christian schools and to my homeschool “history with music-art-drama-dance productions.” I also grew into the ideas of Zenas Coffin (1764-1828) who felt children needed to be educated but was convinced that education could not be trusted to state and federal guidance (Will Gardener, 1949). In public or private schools, I was never forced to teach a particular curriculum, which suited me quite well.
Interestingly, my public or private school classrooms over the years had desks and chairs. That’s it. No curriculum. No books. No scope and sequence. So I developed units for everything I taught:
- Writing with environmental science
- Novels with games, dance, food
- Reading with floor games, music, puppets
- Choral music with choreography, foreign languages, cultures.
At the same time, I began to assist other homeschool and public school teachers who wanted to create dynamic classroom environments by finding ways for them to assimilate integrated subject matter in an active “get up and move” kind of way. I became the “idea person.”
I will always remember one instance when I was a literacy specialist at a public elementary school. It was May, and all 600 students were out on the lawn during lunch, sitting on blankets eating with their parents. I was strolling by the groups stopping to chat, when one of my 3rd grade students stood, turned to his parents and introduced me, saying, “This is Ms. Locklear. Her class isn’t school.” The parents were immediately horrified so I had to put them at ease, but that child? He was spot on.
Great appreciation goes to those homeschool moms who long ago pointed me in a direction that led to adapting innovative and creative teaching methods. Since then, I’ve often observed parents who listen, give a student a chance to accomplish something or assume responsibilities, or lend support to a quest. Blessings to those who contribute to our journey in life.
REBECCA LOCKLEAR writes educational materials for teachers and books for the general public. She’s also a PK-12 music, drama, history, Latin, and English teacher. Visit her website to join her email list and to view many highly-creative and interactive unit studies and supplemental materials she’s written. www.rebeccalocklear.com
Response by Rebecca Locklear to a parent who couldn’t understand why she combined music with other subjects instead of teaching music in its own box.
“Because I work with a diversity of choral texts and a span of 1200 years of music, I need to have a storehouse of experiences and knowledge in order to bring music to life. I must do more than just research a time period. When I am crawling around a ship built in the 1600s, learning to drive a team of horses, studying the night sky, or taking a German class, I am becoming a better interpreter of music. The result for my students is that learning is no longer compartmentalized and music experiences become more meaningful, because they are anchored to areas such as history, literature, science, culture, and philosophy. As music teachers, we need to know…everything.”